How to Tell Stories. Part 1.
Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 5:36PM
ZenBandit in TED, how to tell a story, stories, story analysis, treat me like a friend

Some of you know that I've been working on a guide to help scientists & technologists learn to tell stories. It all started at last year's TED (which is a great place for ideas, if you've never run across it before. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment & Design. TED has the tagline: Ideas Worth Spreading. They have an incredible lineup of speakers every year on every field imaginable. Quantum physics. Robotics. Medicine. Music. Design. There is a general belief at TED that if we harness our ideas & our energies towards a greater good, we could actually launch ourselves into a true Golden Age for all humanity. There is also a general counter-belief at TED that the best of TED was all in the past, in Monterrey. Before everyone knew about it. As if the tagline should actually be "TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. But Not Too Much Because Then Everyone Will Be Almost as Smart as Al Gore. Which is Not Necessarily a Good Thing". Like most things human, it's a mixed bag...)

Anyway, after a couple of days of mind-numbing talks, I figured out that all the years I've spent making stuff up could actually turn out to be useful. (Fancy that!) I could teach these scientists & technologists how to keep from being burned alive by angry crowds of people who just wanted revenge for being bored out of their skulls. In fact, that became my working title for it: How to Explain Science & Technology so that People Don't Want to Tie You Up & Burn You at the Stake.

I'm going to excerpt a few sections of the book over the next couple days here at Zen Bandit. (Now, I don't HAVE to do this. It's actually a curiously masochistic thing, because it forces me to go through & finish the last pieces that need rough edits. 'Rough edit' is my personal code for stuff that's still in my head, which I'll get to some rainy day. Of which there are only, like, five in an entire year in Santa Barbara. Those are days I usually stay in bed all day & read my Kindle anyway. This is the real reason I have to set up situations like this. OTHERWISE, I'D NEVER GET ANYTHING DONE. EVER.)

Anyway, there are really only a few things you need to start telling stories. Maybe 10 or 12 in all. So, I'll give you one a day until I run out, or until I decide I'm fine with the rough edited version... 

So, what are we waiting for? Here's number one (by the way, this is number one hands down. No contest whatsoever):

1.  With any story, treat me like a friend. I’ll forgive a lot if you treat me like someone who matters. Then whatever story you tell me is one I want to hear. Another way of saying this is: it’s not about you. It’s about me. Telling a story is a very intimate act. You are asking me to listen with my child self. The self that wants to imagine & play along with you. This is really important. You may not remember this since you’ve been an adult for a while & the rules are a bit different now, but playing with people who are mean to you isn’t a whole lot of fun. We usually won’t do it more than once & we’ll remember that you were mean to us. For a very, very long time. Probably for every time we run into you for the rest of your life.

The funny thing is that you can actually use this to tell why a story isn't working. Why you're not interested, or why you're bored, or why you're angry. Next time it happens to you, just stand up with an intense look of pitiless retribution on your face (think Old Testament. That'll put you in the right frame of mind...) & say I WILL NOT LISTEN TO ANOTHER WORD UNTIL YOU TREAT ME LIKE A FRIEND. Then, turn around & walk out into the sunshine & the sound of children playing & the wind, like a promise of eternal spring in your hair.

I can promise you it will be one thing you will never regret.

(But, if you do, it'll make a really good story...)

Until next, with love,


Article originally appeared on Zen Bandit: Brian Andreas. Art. Stories. Life (
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